While children’s sugar intakes have declined slightly in recent years, they are still consuming around 8 excess sugar cubes each day, equivalent to around 2,800 excess sugar cubes per year. Recent data show childhood obesity has reached alarming rates. 23.9% of 4- to 5-year-olds are overweight or obese in the North West, increasing to 35.2% in 10- to 11-year-olds. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, increasing their risk of heart disease and some cancers, while more young people than ever are developing Type 2 diabetes.
Excess sugar can also lead to painful tooth decay, more than 1 in 3 five year olds in Greater Manchester have tooth decay (36%). In some areas these figures are even higher, which is why we’ve developed our oral health programme targeting tooth decay in Oldham (51%), Salford (51%), Rochdale (44%) and Bolton (41%). We’re working closely with local nurseries and schools to introduce activities such as supervised tooth brushing for children aged between 2 and 5 and helping to train a network of dedicated ‘dental champions’, supported by expert external staff, to lead the way in improving dental care in early years settings.
To help parents manage this, Change4Life is encouraging them to “make a swap when you next shop”. Making simple everyday swaps can reduce children’s sugar intake from some products (yoghurts, drinks and breakfast cereals) by half – while giving them healthier versions of the foods and drinks they enjoy.
Parents can try swapping:
- a higher-sugar yoghurt (e.g. split-pot) for a lower sugar one, to halve their sugar intake from 6 cubes of sugar to a sugary juice drink for a no-added sugar juice drink, to cut back from 2 cubes to half a cube.
- a higher-sugar breakfast cereal (e.g. a frosted or chocolate cereal) for a lower sugar cereal, to cut back from 3 cubes to half a cube per bowl.
While some foods and drinks remain high in sugar, many companies have reformulated products such as yoghurts, breakfast cereals and juice drinks, meaning these swaps are a good place for families to start.
Making these swaps every day could remove around 2,500 sugar cubes per year from a child’s diet, but swapping chocolate, puddings, sweets, cakes and pastries for healthier options such as malt loaf, sugar-free jellies, lower-sugar custards and rice puddings would reduce their intake even more.
Claire Stevens, NHS paediatric dentistry consultant and children’s oral health lead at the Partnership said:
“Early tooth decay is causing pain, sleepless nights and missed days of school for many young children. Across Greater Manchester, this is adding to the daily challenges faced by many of our least well-off families and putting additional pressures on the NHS.
“Our new £1.5 million oral health programme is tackling these impacts and will hopefully play a vital role in our ambition of giving all of our children the best start in life”.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said:
“Children are consuming too much sugar, but parents can take action now to prevent this building up over the years.
“To make this easier for busy families, Change4Life is offering a straightforward solution – by making simple swaps each day, children can have healthier versions of everyday foods and drinks, while significantly reducing their sugar intake.”
Families are encouraged to look for the Change4Life ‘good choice’ badge in shops, download the free food scanner app or search Change4Life to help them find lower sugar options.
Popular brands – including Nestlé Shredded Wheat, Nestlé Low Sugar Oat Cheerios, Petits Filous and Soreen (malt loaf) – will display the ‘good choice’ badge online, in-store and throughout their advertising, to help parents find healthier options. Customers can also find healthier options in supporting supermarkets including Asda and Aldi, as well as in Londis and Budgens convenience stores.
With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, tackling obesity requires wider action and is not just limited to individual efforts from parents. PHE is working with the food industry to remove 20% of sugar from the products contributing the most to children’s sugar intakes by 2020.
In May 2018, PHE published progress against the first-year sugar reduction ambition of 5%, which showed an average 2% reduction in sugar across categories for retailers and manufacturers. While breakfast cereals, yoghurts and fromage frais were among the categories meeting or exceeding the 5% ambition, some products in these categories are still high in sugar – this is why Change4Life is making it easier for parents to find lower-sugar options.